Vol. 37, No. 3
The U.S. budget: A tell-tale heart
"For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." As the United States Congress considers legislation to shape the country's budget, these words form Luke 12:34 (NRSV) stand as a stark reminder that investments made with taxpayer dollars point directly to the health of our nation's heart – the underlying beliefs, ethics and priorities that shape our collective decisions about how our money is spent. Washington-based faith groups formed a coalition to scrutinize the budget and budget process and advocated a more kindhearted, people, community and earth-centered approach.
As the current budget proposals took shape, a coalition of the nation's largest and most prominent Jewish, Christian and Muslim congregations, denominations, institutions and faith-based organizations formed the Faithful Budget Campaign – working throughout the long months of budget debate to encourage members of Congress to adopt a "Faithful Budget." The coalition drafted a comprehensive set of compassionate budget priorities – asking Congress to invest in the country's needs. These priorities are gathered in one document called "Priorities for a Faithful Budget: Acting with Mercy and Justice as one Nation under God" and can be read in their entirety at the Faithful Budget Campaign website.
For communities of faith, the budget has long been seen as a moral document, in which each proposal can be judged "not by the arbitrary fiscal support it provides, but rather by the human impact it holds." People of faith in the United States take a more community-focused approach understanding themselves "to be 'one nation under God,' not a mere collection of isolated individuals."
The campaign's message delivered to policy makers is rooted in sacred text: "Act with mercy and justice by serving the common good, robustly funding support for poor and vulnerable people, both at home and abroad, and exercising proper care and keeping of the earth." The underlying principles of the faithful budget campaign proceed from this call to serve the common good through acts of justice and mercy. Some of these principles are examined below. The first is to restore economic opportunity – especially the opportunity to work, to improve one's economic condition.
The Campaign urges Congress to make investments in high-quality, affordable education, sustainable jobs with living wages, and policies that help families build assets. It is only with these kinds of long-term investments that the United States can sustain economic renewal, create economic opportunity for all, and work toward ending poverty.
The United States' tax system was established as a progressive tax system – based on the ability to pay – but over last few decades, the tax structure has become less progressive and increasingly the middle class bears a greater portion of the burden. "The tax system also creates financial incentives for individuals to act in ways that are thought to strengthen our social fabric, such as investing and saving for retirement, starting a business, owning a home, getting a college education – even charitable giving. Because of the way tax benefits are structured, however, too often low-wage workers do not earn enough to access those benefits. This results in a system that perpetuates inequality by rewarding behavior that generates financial security for those who already have it, while excluding those who are working hard at low-wage jobs and need help the most. An equitable, moral tax code should reward the efforts of low-income people to work and save at every level."
Since well over half of the U.S. discretionary budget is dedicated to military spending, the United States is unable to invest in other areas that build substantial human security in our communities. "Our budget priorities should reflect a more balanced approach to the full spectrum of investments that build meaningful security for individuals, families, and communities."
Faith communities have often stood in solidarity with vulnerable populations at home and around the world while working to change policies to reduce poverty and hardship. In this capacity at this time when so many are experiencing financial insecurity, people of faith call on "Congress to adequately fund critical human needs, social service, environmental protection, and humanitarian and poverty-focused international assistance programs, all of which ensure human security in its broadest sense."
Thinking of what really makes our communities safe, people of faith know when well over half of the discretionary budget dedicated to military spending, the United States is unable to invest in other areas that build substantial human security in our communities. Global threats to peace and security need not instill a national inclination to make an imbalanced investment in new weapons systems, detention centers, and militarized border walls, while we become less secure in so many other ways.
Nor can we leave our children to inhabit a planet diminished of the natural resources needed to sustain life. "A Faithful Budget must encompass a reverence for our created environment, making choices that protect air, water, and land—the entirety of Creation—gifts from God that must be available to and protected for this generation and those to come."